How Jose Mourinho made himself wanted again

The Jonathan Liew column: The former Manchester United manager has been stealing the show on Sky Sports and a glittering and garlanded broadcasting career appears to await him – if only he wanted it

Jose Mourinho praises a 'pragmatic' Liverpool after Champions League win

So it turns out that Jose Mourinho is a brilliant pundit. Perhaps, in retrospect, this should have been no surprise. A love of the camera, a self-regard bordering on the messianic, a lust for petty conflict, a barely-concealed disgust for every single other person in the room: these may be the same qualities that have brought his coaching career to an unexpected halt, but transpose them into the studio and the results rarely fall short of spectacular.

Watching Mourinho in his semi-regular appearances on Sky Sports this season, you’re struck by two things. First, the sheer magnetism of the oratory. Mourinho may not be to everyone’s taste as a manager, but he’s a genuinely gifted speaker: the tone, the cadence, the way he pauses for just a second to string along the viewer when he wants to make some important, life-affirming point. It’s the same quality that great politicians or preachers possess: “let freedom ring”; “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; “Lacazette, for me, doesn’t have that quality”.

But perhaps the biggest revelation of all is the sheer gulf in understanding. This is only really apparent when you set Mourinho alongside someone like Graeme Souness (last managerial job: 2006) or Jamie Redknapp (team captain, A League Of Their Own). The elite manager grasps football at a level so far beyond our own that it actually requires a master communicator like Mourinho to bridge the gap between the two. “One thing is the tactical system, one thing is principles of play,” Mourinho explains, before explaining the intricate differences between non-negotiable defensive maxims and an opponent-specific plan. Meanwhile, Souness asserts: “You’ve got to be putting the ball in the net.” To all purposes, they may as well be talking different languages.

And so a glittering and garlanded broadcasting career appears to await Mourinho, if only he wanted it. Alas, all the early indications suggest that Mourinho sees television as merely an adjunct to the wider vision: rehabilitating himself ahead of a return to big-club management. Already, Real Madrid’s indifferent start to the season has set tongues wagging. Florentino Perez is known to be an admirer. Zinedine Zidane is struggling to win over the dressing room. Oh, no. Oh, god. Are we really - I mean, really - going to do this all over again?

As Marx almost put it, history repeats itself once as tragedy, twice as farce, and three times as an immaculately choreographed press event in Madrid for the new football website Livescore. On stage with Samuel Eto’o and La Liga president Javier Tebas, Mourinho made his pitch. “Real Madrid was my best experience because of what I learned as a coach, as a man,” he purred. “It was the best memory of my career. It was fantastic.”

Naturally, this would probably come as something of a surprise to those who were in the Madrid dressing room during Mourinho’s toxic final season at the Bernabeu, during which he failed to win a trophy, irrevocably fell out with senior players and became obsessed with traitors and leaks. “This is the worst season of my career,” Mourinho admitted at the time. But then, time and distance mellow us all. The real quiz, as any half-decent communicator will tell you, is not what you say, but the sincerity with which you say it.

And so over recent weeks, Mourinho has been dutifully doing his media rounds, making sure that when the right job comes up, he’s ready. There he is, on Joe.co.uk, talking about his love of Peaky Blinders and Brian Clough and how he once met Al Pacino in Los Angeles (who, Mourinho cunningly reveals, knew who he was). There he is, on Cameroon radio, about how Samuel Eto’o should have won the Ballon d’Or. There he is, on stage with Eto’o, revealing that he still shares a WhatsApp group with the Inter Milan squad that won the Champions League in 2010: a friend first, a boss second, a painfully reactive 4-5-1 manager third.

The subtext of all this is unmistakable. Mourinho, like every out-of-work manager, knows that when the next job comes along, it won’t be at a model club with a functional structure. It’ll be at a fallen giant with tarnished pride and an ego to match his own. And so, who better to restore them to primacy? Do you think Al Pacino has the faintest idea who Mauricio Pochettino or Max Allegri is? Of course not. Only Jose fits the bill, and at the sort of club where eyeballs are as important as trophies, Mourinho’s broad, pendulous celebrity may just get him through the door.

Perhaps there’s a wider parable here. All over the world, societies are turning to the strongman in search of an answer to their problems. And as a child of Portugal’s fascist dictatorship, Mourinho has always valued basic manliness as the fount of order, and sold his own skills on that basis. To adapt that well-known Michael Rosen poem, Jose Mourinho arrives as your friend. He will restore your honour, make you feel proud, remind you of how great you once were, clean out the venal and corrupt. Only later do you realise that he also brings with him a deep paranoia, a low block, needless feuds, ritualistic bloodletting.

And yet, there’s Perez, wondering whether Mourinho could hate-manage them to a trophy or two. There’s Adrian Durham on Talksport, advocating Mourinho for the Arsenal job on the basis that they need somebody who will “go in there and shake the club up”. Meanwhile, there’s Jose Mourinho, waiting to go into make-up, ten minutes to air. And as ever, he has us hanging on his every move.

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